Saturday, March 26, 2016

Purer in Heart, O God – Fannie Estelle Church Davison

Fannie was a believer who evidently felt some anguish at her condition. That much may be surmised from what Fannie Estelle Church Davison decided to express in a poem she entitled “Purer in Heart, O God” as a 26-year old in 1877. She was a wife and mother of a little girl, and this young family lived in the midwestern U.S. She had written other poetry that became songs, but this one was among the first ones that she had composed and was published in a hymnal. Its message must have hit home with others at the time, prompting its use. Is it possible for the human animal to be made pure through some complex machinations, like dirty water being made potable by going through some device (with the help of this antique manual control chlorinator for the liquefaction of chlorine for water purification, shown here)? Fannie’s song endures, communicating something pretty important for us believers over 100 years later that still identify with its sentiments – a plea from Fannie to the Holy God for help.  

We know a limited amount of information on Mrs. Fannie Davison, yet it fills in some details and gives us a little window into her circumstances. She’s credited with writing some 95 texts by the end of her all-too-brief life, which ended in 1887, just 10 years after “Purer in Heart…” was published. Her demise at age 36 was perhaps due to a long-term illness (according to another blogger), but was she in fact pondering how brief earthly existence might be even in her mid-20s? What in fact motivated the desire of this young wife and mother of a six-year old to be more pure? She’d lost her biological father at the age of 10 (death’s cause unknown), and experienced the U.S. Civil War’s visit upon probably many people she knew up until her mid-teens, so she knew life could be short. It must have struck her that time might not allow her to work out over a natural lifetime how to become more wholesome, more acceptable to God. Her family may have been in the Chicago area, or perhaps in Wisconsin as she mulled over a closer devotion to her Creator. Had she met others in either of those places that spurred this self-reflection? Perhaps it was her own family’s inspiration—the ones that gave her the middle name ‘Church’-- that motivated the consideration of her spiritual condition. Since Fannie kept writing songs that were published in two additional collections in 1880 and 1882, we may suspect she continued to work on herself, or that maybe she was helping to articulate the feelings of others she knew through her compositions. No specificity is required, for she voiced what is common for any rational, heaven-seeking individual. How do I approach Him, if I’m still dirty?

Fannie’s own verses suggest how she might have answered the question the unclean poses when looking vertically. A: Don’t try to hide from what the Omniscient already sees, but invite Him to observe (‘Watch thou my wayward…’ v.1), and trust that He wants to help; B: Be moldable (‘Teach me…v.2)…this Creator knows what He’s doing, as He keeps creating me; and C: Know that I only lose sight of Him if I let something (‘secret sin’, v.3) get wedged in between us. Is it significant that Fannie began and ended each of her verses with the same petition – help me be pure? There must have been times she despaired that hers was a hopeless quest. At the same time, He doesn’t stop His quest for me, either. Maybe He just wants to hear me keep asking.

See link here for song’s verses:
Brief biography of composer here:

Another blogger’s information on the composer is here:

Saturday, March 19, 2016

When We Meet in Sweet Communion – Tillit Sydney Teddlie

Someone asks ‘What does a blessed life look like?’ Meet Tillit Sydney Teddlie of Texas, whom you might evaluate by how long he lived – 102 years. Or, you might look at all the songs he wrote – about 130 by the end of his life, including “When We Meet in Sweet Communion”, which he wrote as a 37-year old in 1922. (He was only a little over one-third of the way home then, at the age some of us might say was nearing middle-age!) Or, how about all the songbooks he compiled – 14 songbooks; or, what about the 61 years he spent teaching singing schools? What would the 1,000 people whom he reportedly baptized in his life say if we were able to interview them? Let’s see if we can discover what Tillit might say was the key, if he were here to answer. Hey wait, maybe he is here, in a way.

Tillit Teddlie, it’s safe to say, wasn’t busy crunching numbers and resting on his accomplishments. Tillit’s formula was not to focus his attention on his own needs and desires. It’s no surprise what he recommended for finding blessing. In 1922, as he partook of the same meal we eat today, he inclined his ear, and invites us to follow suit, and listen for God’s ‘whisper’ (it’s in all three verses).  He’d been engaged in music ministry for about five years (since 1917), and while we don’t know the particular circumstances of this composition, his poetry and what we know of his life give us clues about how he felt.  First and foremost, he loved being with other believers (that’s in verse 1), and experiencing the bond of Jesus with others. God’s payment was ‘matchless’ (v.2), along with the consequent reunion-meal with mankind that was ‘all surpassing’ (v.3), compared to other events in a person’s life. These axiomatic principles steered his heart and his actions. It certainly wasn’t the first time that he had eaten the communion bread or tasted the grape juice, but he apparently wanted to focus minds on this special part of a Christian’s devotion that day in 1922. What more needs to be said of this Texan?   

Introducing others to the Lord was a fire in Teddlie that was never quenched, probably because the source of that blaze was so enduring. He served in no less than six churches in Texas and one in Memphis, Tennessee, demonstrating that he was willing to keep moving about to stoke the fire, to keep it going as a preacher, hymn-writer, and publisher. So it’s not really that surprising to read that Tillit lived so long. Someone says ‘Was it the Texas sunshine that kept him alive for 102 years’? Or, was it contacting the blesser, and coaxing others to do the same? Maybe God just found him too useful to stop him earlier!  

A more thorough portrayal of composer’s life is here:

Saturday, March 12, 2016

I Am Thine O Lord -- Frances Jane Crosby

Birthplace – Cincinnati, Ohio. Parents – Crosby and Doane. Or, perhaps another should get some credit for the composition of “I Am Thine O Lord”; see what you think after you learn what inspired the pen of 55-year-old Frances Jane Crosby in the year 1875. It’s apparent from reading about her life that circumstances did not have to be extreme for “Fanny” to write a poem that would later become a song. It probably helped her to know that her partner William Howard Doane was in tune with the same Spirit that inhabited her inner self. She was able to write on the spur of a moment, a gift that helps explain her abundancy as a hymnist – over 8,000 over her lifetime – that was more amazing because her hymn-writing career began so late in life. But, it’s never too late to connect with a new mission in life.

Fanny Crosby had many musical collaborators, but perhaps none as close to her as Howard Doane, whom she visited on occasion in his Cincinnati home. Though their musical teamwork was often the outcome of their get-togethers, during this one incident perhaps they both were not intentionally seeking such a result. It’s said they were sharing about God’s proximity and His impact, and how He had blessed them both. Indeed, Fanny and Howard were both success stories outside of their music-making ventures – she as a writer and musician with hundreds of secular works to her credit, and he a very prosperous businessman. Their conversation sparked her imagination, but perhaps there was some other synergistic element there too. It’s said that as the sun set that day, a shadowy scene portrayed His handiwork. While this would have been invisible to Crosby, was it something that Howard related to his blind friend – a further evidence of God’s presence, and an additional ingredient in the topic of their conversation? To the perceptive Crosby, could she feel the descending sun’s warmth vanishing bit by bit, but in a way calling out to her? Whatever the cause, Crosby was seeking to go deeper (vv.1-2) than she’d been up to that point. She recognized His presence had indeed come as she’d sought Him (v. 3), but understood that she would not fully experience Him here (v. 4). She reportedly spoke the words of the verses to Howard on the spot, obviously with the movement of the Spirit giving her the inspired words. Howard apparently wrote the music accompanying ”I Am Thine…” the following morning. It would be interesting to know how often the Crosby –Doane collaborative relationship worked in this way. They reportedly produced some 1,500 songs together.Isn't it great what Christian fellowship can do?

Can it be said that Fanny’s musical life is proof that God’s presence is persistent? Sometimes it seems He’s near, but is He gone at other times, particularly when evil seems so pervasive?  Would the planet lose its way in orbit if He was missing for even a brief second? Conflicting evidence might tell us ‘yes’ and ‘no’ are at once the answers to these questions. Maybe these are questions that Fanny asked herself too, spurring her onward to a renewed mission work commitment as she broached the age of sixty, five years after “I am Thine…” was born. To bring God close to those who needed Him most was her urgent desire. A Cincinnati evening wasn’t a one-time experience, but something Aunt Fanny wanted to build upon. What’s your building look like?    

See more information on the song story in these sources: The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs by William J. Petersen and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, 2006; and Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1990. 

Also see this link, showing all four verses and the composer’s story about the song:  

More in-depth biography of composer here:

Saturday, March 5, 2016

We Give Thee But Thine Own -- William Walsham How

He made a pledge while still in the early stages of his chosen career as a religious man. What would a 12-year veteran of an English religious persuasion be promising to do – wasn’t his ministry enough to testify about his motives? But, apparently William Walsham How felt the need to say “We Give Thee But Thine Own” in several ways as he considered himself in God’s service in Whittington, England, near the Welsh border. Was it just financial gifts that How pondered he needed to give to his Creator?  Obviously, as a minister, he must have felt much more was necessary, and he must have been thinking of others who he thought needed to offer it all up to God, as he penned the word ‘we’ in his poetry.  

William How was a 35-year old who’d been laboring as an Anglican minister in the small rural community of Whittington in west-central England when he wrote ‘We Give Thee…”. It was 1858, and he still lived in the area near where he’d been born and raised. He’d ultimately serve more than 30 years in the Shrewsbury-Whittington area and the county of Shropshire, evidently a work in which he deeply believed – 30 years of commitment speaks for itself. He was a familiar face by this time, a home-grown element who was among many people he’d known for some time, perhaps some of them since boyhood. One can imagine that his words were crafted to arouse the assent of those with whom he worshipped and felt a deep kinship. “‘We’ should be about this in our lives”, you can hear him exhorting his congregants from the pulpit. It would have flowed naturally from his sermons to the poet’s page, to find its way into a collection known as Psalms and Hymns in 1864. Whatever one has comes from the One above, so use it for His purposes – that’s the message of How’s poem. But, he also thought about how this attitude of giving might draw others, for it wasn’t just an act of surrender to a higher power. He felt the mission of God was his own, that in fact a faith community – the ‘we’—was a force to relieve suffering. Faith stragglers (v.3), the sad (v.4), orphaned (v.4), and imprisoned (v.5) were all some who must have crossed paths with William in his ministry in Shropshire County. He was spelling out what he wanted to be about in his hometown, and beyond, if he ever chose to leave.

How did in fact leave Shropshire and minister in London by 1879 and for the better part of the next two decades, taking with himself this ‘We Give Thee…” life-purpose. What he discovered in the farming community of his hometown wasn’t backward for where he went later. His was a ministry that in fact burgeoned once he relocated to the larger urban area. It says something about God’s mission…it might look provincial and small in an area like Whittington, but its principles translate well. How was willing to “Give thee thine own” wherever he found himself, and his words resonated in the big city as well as they did in the farm country. One can take himself anywhere, when you’ve found what How did.       

See more information on the song story in these sources: The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs by William J. Petersen and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, 2006. 

See brief biography of composer here:
Also see this link, showing all six original verses of the song:  

More in-depth biography of composer here: